With the spectrum auctions currently ongoing in Germany these days and LTE being the hot topic a number of people have independently asked me recently when I think UMTS will be switched-off. A refreshing variant of the question when GSM will be switched-off. I find the question quite interesting and my answer is that I personally think that UMTS won't go away anytime soon. Having reached almost nationwide coverage in many countries, offering broadband speeds and continuing development ensuring competitiveness, the only reason I can see why to switch it off at some point is to save cost. But until it can be switched-off a number of things have to happen:
- LTE must reach a similar coverage as 3G networks today.
- Most mobile devices requiring a fast mobile and wireless Internet connection have to have LTE built in.
- A voice solution for LTE must be found as falling back to GSM (which is not switched-off either…) for voice calls is from my point of view not a viable option.
So when will those things have fallen into place? I seriously doubt that this will happen within the next 5 years. And once we get there, will there still be a need to switch 3G off or will multi-mode base stations that can generate GSM, UMTS and LTE signals just make it unnecessary?
I see a coexistence of GSM, UMTS and LTE for a very long time to come. So instead of working on phasing out UMTS, it might make more sense to work on solutions to integrate the different radio systems.
As always, comments are welcome!